If you aren’t familiar with the word “overbiffing,” there’s no need to add it to your vocabulary. But if you know what overbiffing is and engage in it, a case just filed by the FTC and the New York Attorney General suggests now would be an excellent time to cut it out.
Overbiffing is the practice of debt collectors tricking consumers into paying more than their “Balance In Full,” sometimes abbreviated as BIF. The FTC and the New York AG charge that a related group of Buffalo companies controlled by defendant Robert Heidenreich encourages their collectors to engage in overbiffing. As the complaint alleges, the payment forms the defendants’ collectors use reflect that. For example, one particular form includes fill-in-the-blanks for “Client Balance” (what the consumer actually owes) and “Balance Given” (what the debt collector told the consumer they owe). In many instances, forms completed by the collectors show that the Balance Given to consumers is hundreds of dollars higher than the Client Balance. (Some even show thousands higher.) That, in a nutshell, is overbiffing.
Overbiffing is just one example of conduct challenged in the complaint. The FTC and the AG say that when the defendants’ reps call consumers, they often don’t reveal they’re debt collectors and instead claim to be affiliated with the County Sheriff’s Office or a process server. They threaten that consumers are about to be arrested, sued, or served with legal papers unless they cough up money immediately. To keep the pressure on, the callers suggest that people can avoid arrest by speaking with someone they’re told is an attorney. Who is it really? Another one of the defendants’ debt collectors.
How persuasive is the pitch? Very, according to the FTC and the AG. For example, one consumer got a call from someone who said they work for the sheriff’s office in her Florida county. The caller claimed to be coming to her house to pick her up on a warrant for “ACH fraud, defaulting on a loan, and grand larceny.” When the frightened consumer asked how she could prevent the arrest, the person from the “sheriff’s office” referred her to one of those “attorneys,” who got her to authorize a debit card payment over the phone.
Despite express prohibitions in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the lawsuit alleges the defendants often call consumers’ employers and family members about purported debts. Then there’s the abusive language. According to the complaint, one of the defendants’ debt collectors told the father-in-law of a consumer from Pennsylvania that he was a “dumb-a** coal miner.” Another collector referred to a women as “the dumbest son of a bitch that I know.” And according to the lawsuit, watch out for flying f-bombs when the defendants’ collectors unleash their fury.
The lawsuit names Heidenreich (who also goes by “Bobby Rich”), Campbell Capital LLC; Kahl, Heidenreich, and Nemmer LLC; Urban, Heidenreich, Melendez, and Associates, LLC; J & V Receivables LLC; Rich Financial LLC; and BCH & Associates Ltd. The complaint charges multiple violations of the FDCPA, the FTC Act, and New York state law – including a specific count alleging that overbiffing is an illegal practice.
At the request of the FTC and the AG, a federal judge in Buffalo has entered a temporary restraining order and frozen the defendants’ assets.